Left Wing Alex Iafallo (#19) of the Los Angeles Kings

SoCal Surprises

So much for the rumour mill. I spelled that in Canadian style, by the way, to make the point that rumors and hockey players don’t mix. Yesterday afternoon amongst SoCal hockey fans, people had Dustin Brown going somewhere—to the Islanders, to Toronto? Jonathan Quick was headed to Toronto, too. Ryan Getzlaf was Vegas-bound. Manson of the Ducks was going away.

So what did the trade deadline bring?

Surprises. The Kings shocked their fans—and some players—by dealing Jeff Carter, who will be a UFA this summer. He went to the Penguins, where he has a prior relationship with the new GM, Ron Hextall, who was previously Assistant GM in LA (and GM in Philly). The result was praise from all corners for what Carter had done for the franchise, most especially when he came from Columbus in February 2012 and finally brought the scoring the team needed to win their first Stanley Cup. He was lauded as a leader, quiet off the ice and not prone to give media much to go on, but a mentor to his teammates, especially the younger ones.

Carter was back to his early form this year and, to a large extent, last, after showing signs of slowing down back after the second Cup win in 2014 and suffering an Achilles laceration in 2018 that took a good two years to get back from. This season, he was playing with Andres Athanasiou, a speedy player who brought out both Carter’s speed and his finesse with the puck.

The Ducks pulled a surprise of their own, trading two defensemen who had been on the playing roster as late as Sunday late afternoon—Jani Hakanpaa and Ben Hutton. The former went to the Carolina Hurricanes with a 2022 6th round pick for Haydn Fleury.

What came back was a guy who needs a second chance on defense. Fleury was part of a deep Carolina team, a first-round (early—7thoverall) pick who got buried on a team with lots of good D. He had been in 35 games for the Hurricanes this year, with a goal from his position as a left-shooting defenseman. His career spans 167 NHL games and five goals with 19 assists.

Ben Hutton had also played Sunday afternoon, one of 34 games this year and 375 for his career. He was a late (5thround) pick of the Canucks in 2012. He played most of four seasons for the Canucks, then a year for the Kings in 2019-20, and was signed by the Ducks on January 15thof this year. He is now a member of the Leafs’ organization, traded for a 2022 5th-round pick.

Fleury is expected to join the Anaheim team this week. In the meantime, the Ducks slotted in Jacob Larsson and Andy Welinski on the backline against the Sharks to make up for the two absent members. In addition, they were without Ryan Getzlaf, still nursing an injury and out for precautionary reasons. In at forward, though obviously not a sub for the Captain, was Andrew Agozzino, who got in his third game of the year.

So what did each team do in their Monday night games? Pull even more surprises. The Kings had Vegas in town, Robin Lehner in goal. They played a track-meet-style game with the Golden Knights, trading speed for speed and chance for chance.

Cal Petersen in the LA goal had to make several key saves in the early going, and things looked good for a while because LA got the early lead, though the shots stayed very close through period one and into two. The Kings were up 2-0 around midway. Then they collapsed. The Golden Knights scored four goals in a row, albeit spaced out.

The first came with about five minutes left in the second period. The second came with just seconds left in P2—a backbreaker even though all it did was tie the game. This partly because it was a shorthanded tally. Mark Stone broke out of the zone and got space with Gabe Vilardi chasing. He deked to his forehand and tucked the puck past Petersen. Thing was, just prior, Chandler Stephenson had been stopped on a breakaway shorthanded. This was the third shorthanded breakaway in the game. Stone’s would add on to that. You already know about Stone’s goal. Stephenson’s miss saw him lumber in, somehow all alone splitting the defense. He took a shot, but Petersen got it before over-sliding and getting out of position.

By this point, the Kings were well on their heels. They were being outshot, and would end up losing 4-2 and not putting up a challenge. The fourth goal came off the stick of Max Pacioretty, and wrister that he launched from distance with a screening player in front. It went just over or past Petersen’s head, with him ducking as he saw it. This was the 300thgoal of Pacioretty’s career, scored on the power play. The shots at the end were 41-28 for the visiting team.

When asked what the turning point (away from the good), Austin Wagner of LA said after the game, “Our  first period was pretty good. They transition the puck extremely well . . . . Every time we get the chance, they’re going quick up. I think we as a team know we need to get better at that on Wednesday. We had a tie game going into the third, and it just, yeah, it just happened that way.” He promised they’ll look better in the next game, saying they know “in that room what we have to do to be better as a group.” He said the Kings will “fix our mistakes and work hard.”

Coach Todd McLellan was not so cheerful. He said that the PP (shorthanded) goal that his team gave up was the back breaker. “We had chances before that. We got careless. If the power play  isn’t scoring it should at least gain you a little momentum. It did none of those things tonight. All it did was give back momentum. I thought that was the turning point.” He also noted that it was not the first breakaway on the PP that his team gave up, but you know that already (because it’s above).

Meanwhile, up North in San Jose, the Ducks, famous for not scoring goals and for staying in games only because their ace goalie, John Gibson, made that possible, scored three unanswered to start the contest and eventually four in the game with the Sharks and watched as the keeper duties were handled not by Gibson, who wasn’t even dressed for the night, not by Ryan Miller, who was backing up, but by Anthony Stolarz.

Stolarz might be an unfamiliar name to non-California observers, but he is perhaps the future of netminding for the Ducks. This year, he has appeared in four games now, with a record, after the Ducks won the game, of 2-1-0.

In terms of goals, Alexander Volkov had two of the Ducks’ first three, one a San Jose own-goal that Volkov got credit for. That means three goals in six games since he came over from Tampa Bay. His teammates fed him the puck as much as they could as the game went on, sensing a hat trick. No luck, but two’s better than one.

Speaking of newbies scoring, for the Kings, Brendan Lemieux got an assist on the first goal, scored by Wagner. It was his first point as a King. He came to the team from the Rangers in late March.

LA almost closed when Athanasiou and Grundstrom went down two-on-one. The former held, held, and finally shot, ringing it off the post. But as you’ve seen, hopes for a comeback were futile.

And 340 miles north?  Oops forgot, Canadian: and 547 kilometers north? The Ducks were leading after two periods, same score as after one: 3-0. They would eventually win 4-0 with Stolarz playing one of the best games of his career. This was Stolarz’s third shutout of his career. He stopped 45 shots in the win. This tied a club record for the number of shots stopped in a shutout.

Notes

The other notable news on this day was that the Kings resigned Alec Iafallo, a four-year deal with a $16 million price tag. He plays on the first line with Brown and Kopitar, and his linemates, coach, and GM all describe him the same way: he’s an unspectacular player who will do anything and everything asked of him.

The Kings get their chance to take on Vegas again on Wednesday. The Ducks remain in San Jose for a rematch with the Sharks.